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You’ve Been Out Protesting — Here’s What You Should Do To Be Safe About Coronavirus

About 100 demontrators, many of them children, walk onto the Arch grounds Sunday June 14, 2020, to protest police violence. It was just one of several such protests over the weekend.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
Health experts recommend protesters wear masks, use hand sanitizer and keep their distance from others to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

People across the St. Louis region are taking to the streets to protest police brutality as officials lift restrictions put in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

But the virus hasn’t gone away.

The St. Louis region saw an average of 142 new coronavirus cases per day in the week ending June 11. Health experts say the spike isn’t surprising as businesses across the region open their doors. Even though people are able to leave their homes, health experts say the coronavirus is still a threat — and protesters should take precautions to stay safe.

“We recommend that people who are protesting can continue to follow the same guidance that we give for anyone else going out into public areas,” said Dr. Hilary Babcock, an infectious disease specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

But health experts say people who participate in the protests can do things to keep themselves safe and reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Here are their recommendations:

Keep your distance

Health experts say protesters should consider the venue and size of the space before heading out. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers large in-person gatherings where people can’t stay six feet apart or farther as spaces where people are at the highest risk for contracting the coronavirus.

“Outdoor spaces are in general safer than indoor spaces, spaces that are configured in a way that facilitates keeping people distanced at least six feet apart,” Babcock said.

While there is still a risk of contracting the virus outdoors, if people wear a face mask and stay six feet apart, the risk of transmitting the virus is low, according to the CDC.

Take precautions 

Protesters should make sure they have a face mask and hand sanitizer available to bring. 

“Wearing a cloth face mask is absolutely the best way of mitigating the spread during the widespread protests,” said Dr. Will Ross, chair of the St. Louis Joint Board of Health and Hospitals.

The CDC also recommends wearing a cloth mask when attending an event where people chant or sing. That could reduce the spread of respiratory droplets that carry the coronavirus. People who don’t show signs or symptoms of the virus also should wear masks as they could be asymptomatic. Anyone who is sick should refrain from going outside or attending a protest.

Be careful in the streets

Protesters should keep as much distance between each other as possible. Ross said remaining six feet or more from each other isn’t always possible during a protest since so many people are confined to a single space, but trying to stay apart as much as possible will help limit the spread of the virus.

Ross said people should refrain from any physical contact that could increase transmission. 

“The fist bumping, the elbow bumping, that has to be curtailed during this protest,” Ross said. “I think that that in itself may certainly help mitigate the spread.”

Protesters should also use hand sanitizers while marching. People should purchase sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Have a strong post-protest routine

People who have been in large crowds should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds as soon as possible when they return home, Ross said. Protesters also should consider self-quarantining or taking a coronavirus test, especially if they were protesting all day or live with other people.

“This is not always practical frankly, but the best option is to self-quarantine for up to 14 days,” Ross said. “If they're not symptomatic but they've been exposed, they should get tested within no later than five to seven days after the event or the protest.”

St. Louis and St. Louis County are now testing people who don’t have symptoms. Health experts and elected officials said testing those who may be asymptomatic can help reduce the spread of the virus.

Ross said those who exhibit symptoms should be tested for COVID-19 immediately. 

Follow Chad on Twitter: @iamcdavis

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Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.